Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota.
Authority is something very few acknowledge today. Instead of respect for it, there is disrespect. Instead of obedience, there is rebellion. Instead of honor, there is defiance.
The source of this widespread contempt for authority is the home. Children today increasingly disregard and disobey their parents. They “lip-off” to them. They ignore the commands parents give. Striking is their boldness, for they do this, not just behind their parents’ backs, but to their faces. No doubt this is something that many of us have often observed, and perhaps even commented on.
One might be inclined to blame the children for this. However, the parents are usually at fault. This is because they fail to exercise their God-given authority. They do not insist, as they ought, that their children respect and obey them. They allow their children to get away with outright disobedience. Or they put up with delayed obedience — by using a countdown method, or by repeating commands instead of administering discipline. As a result, children take over in the home. A role reversal occurs. Instead of parents enforcing rules, children dictate how things should be.
This disregard for authority spreads from the home into all areas of life. Children who disregard and disobey their parents grow into adults who do not submit to those whom God has placed over them in society, at work, and in the church. We as God’s people are not immune to this sin.
One of the most direct influences on us and our children is the world. The world surrounds and bombards us with its ungodly lifestyle and man-centered thinking. We are affected, not only by what we observe, but also by the literature we read and the music we hear. Satan uses these things to teach us an unbiblical view of authority.
One of the many tools Satan uses, and perhaps the most crafty of them all, is the television. Through what some might wrongly consider to be humorous “family” shows, as well as through supposedly innocent cartoons, the world’s ideas are promoted. Parents and their requirements are made a mockery. Children are considered amusing when they talk back to parents or teachers or others in authority. Parents are portrayed as fools who have no control. Children are the intelligent ones who have the skills as well as the right to take charge. As children watch this trash they are taught that disobedience is not only acceptable, but highly recommended. It is the way to make others laugh. It is the kind of behavior that gains approval.
This ought to make parents seriously consider whether the lack of respect for authority that is evident among their children is a result of allowing the world’s influence to creep into their homes and lives. Have we allowed the television to be our children’s teacher?
The Scriptures provide much instruction concerning God-ordained authority.
Authority, we must understand, is the right of one to impose his will upon another. He has the right to decide for another what that person may or may not do. He has the right to require submission and to demand obedience. And he has the right to judge whether or not the other has obeyed, and if he has not, to punish him.
Authority is a right. The only reason anyone has authority over another is because God confers on him that right.
All authority is in God. As Lord over all, He has the perfect right to rule over all. God does this, but He does not always do it directly. God gave all authority to Christ and rules all things through Him (Matt. 28:18). Christ in turn does the same. He does not rule directly, but rules through men. He confers His God-given authority on men. One has authority only because God through Christ gives it to him.
This teaches us a few things about authority. First of all it tells us that authority is not brute power. Some think so. In fact, it is often said that “might makes right.” But that is not true. One nation may not rule another just because it is more powerful. A child may not bully another child simply because he is stronger. Nor do parents have authority just because they are bigger and stronger and thus able to force their children to submit and obey.
This is an important truth. Without it, parents could not exercise, or continue to exercise, authority. For the fact is that in most instances children reach a point where they become stronger than their parents. Then what? Does the child at that point have the right to begin exercising authority over the parent? He may not. Parents must realize that obedience to them is required regardless of their size or strength. And children must realize this too. Parents need to make it clear to them at a very early age.
Another important implication of the fact that authority is a God-given right is that one does not have authority because of superior abilities. Teachers do not have authority because they know so much more than their students. It is true that they generally do, and need to. But that is not the basis of their authority. The same is true of officebearers in the church. They do not have authority because they are men who are superior in knowledge, wisdom, and experience. The same is true in government. A man is not president just because he is the one most capable of ruling the country.
It is certainly a good thing when those in authority are well qualified for their work. It is not good when a teacher or elder or president is a fool. But even if that is the case, such a person has just as much authority as one who is wise. And those under him have just as much obligation to obey. Why? Because God has placed that person in that position. That person has a God-given right to rule.
This has practical implications for those who are in positions of authority.
First of all it means that those with authority not only may, but also must exercise their God-given authority. They are to do so, of course, in the right way, namely in love for God and the neighbor. Any other motive or approach leads to tyranny. But the point is that authority must be diligently maintained. Parents, teachers, employers, and officebearers in the church are required to exercise strictly and consistently their God-given authority.
They must also realize that they are answerable to Christ. All are—parents, teachers, ministers, elders, deacons, presidents, judges, politicians, and police officers. Their position carries with it serious responsibilities. They are to rule in the name and love of Christ. They will have to give an account one day to Him in whose name they rule.
This is just as true for those who are wicked. In their wickedness they may rage against God and His people. They may use their position to their own advantage. If that is so, they do not serve Christ but are against him. Yet the fact remains that God through Christ has put them in their positions. They are accountable to God, whether they acknowledge it or not.
Those who have God-given authority must take their responsibilities seriously. Parents must do so (Eph. 6:4). So must employers (Eph. 6:9), governors (Rom. 13), and officebearers (Acts 20:28). Christ requires this of all on whom He confers the right to rule.
There are also practical implications for those who are under authority.
Authority implies obedience. The two are inseparable. One who is under another’s authority must willingly submit his will to the will of the other. And he must obey. He must do exactly what he is told. This must be done without questioning—without even asking, as children like to do, “Why?” Perhaps especially our children need to be reminded of this.
The Scriptures clearly set this forth as God’s requirement. It is required of citizens in regard to those over them in government (Tit. 3:1; I Pet. 2:13-15). It is required of children in regard to their parents (Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20). It is required of employees in regard to their employers (Col. 3:22; Tit. 2:9, 10; I Pet. 2:18). It is required of the members of the church in regard to the officebearers (I Thess. 5:12, 13; Heb. 13:17). It is required of all of us whenever we are under another’s authority (Ex. 20:12).
This includes respect for and obedience to one who is wicked. It is true that when such a person commands us to do something which is contrary to the Scriptures, we ought to obey God rather than men. But still we are called to submit. This may even involve having to bear a punishment for not doing the sinful deed that we were asked to do. But we may not rebel against or try to overthrow God-appointed authority.
Since our obedience is to be motivated by love for God and the neighbor, the motive may never be one of fear. One who obeys out of fear does so only because he is afraid of the consequences of disobedience. Nor may the motive for obedience be that we see the advantages of doing so—such as favors from parents, advancement at work, or better grades in school.
The motive must be love, only and always. And that love must be a love of the heart. Then the obedience will also be proper obedience. External obedience is not enough. It may appear to be good, and it might very well gain the approval of men. But if it is not done from the heart, it is, in the eyes of God, disobedience and disrespect.
We should obey in the realization that God through Christ has placed that person in that position of authority. Submission and obedience to parents, teachers, employers, policemen, or the elders of the church is submission and obedience to God Himself.
Since the home is the most fundamental sphere of authority, it is especially there that respect for authority must be taught and maintained. What is learned in the home is carried into every area of life.
Children by nature do not willingly submit to the authority of their parents and obey them without question. They need to be taught this by their parents. Parents should teach it by word, by example, and by use of discipline. They must insist that children respect and obey them, and thus also Christ. They do not need to provide a reason for obedience, except to point out that God requires it. Only if a child is taught obedience in the home will that child, by God’s grace, obey in all spheres of life.
God wills that parents teach their children, in the home, to respect authority. And what better place could there be for children to learn! In the home exists the natural love of parents for their children. Such a sphere of love cannot be found anywhere else in society. And in a godly home, it is more than just a natural love. There the children are loved and taught by parents who have received and who regard those children as covenant gifts from God. Not through force or tyranny, but lovingly those children are brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Obedience needs to be taught. Submission to authority needs to be enforced. May we, by God’s grace, do this.